Fishy Business!

FROM time immemorial, Saint Lucians have been able – and very willing – to buy their fish at the source: from the fisherman as soon as his boat is pulled ashore.

As the years went by and the food value of fish became more appreciated, fishermen took to selling by the roadsides.

The Fisheries Department, recognizing the growth in fishermen’s numbers and the exponential increase in fish landings, eventually arranged to purchase whatever additional fish that registered fishers were unable to sell after landing.

Today, fresh fish is in such demand and yields from the sea are so great that there seems to be a growing problem of fishermen being unable to sell all the fish they have landed.

Being involved in a hand-to-mouth trade in which each fisherman tries to recoup the ever-rising cost of petrol for each fishing trip, it becomes incumbent on each to try to sell as much fish as possible after returning to port with his catch.

But here’s the catch: With the Fisheries Department’s purchasing outlet mechanism closing down after 4:30pm, fishers who land their catch after that time have no choice but to try to sell their fish on their own.

Catch #2:Arriving near or after dark, the fishers in Castries (for example) have no choice but to try to sell their fish by the roadside – or ‘By the Market’ (meaning anywhere within the perimeter of the Castries Market’s fish sales depot and the wider periphery).

Catch 22: The Castries City Council (CCC), in its efforts to keep the city clean, has directed the City Police to keep sellers of fish off the streets ‘after hours’.

The CCC has not issued a public statement on the matter, but Castries fishers and their agents ‘by the market’ have found it difficult to continue as in the past, as the City Police, they claim, are hounding them off the streets, pursuing them at every corner they try to sell the day’s catch for a day’s pay.

Catchy Problems: (1) Fishers and cleaners who do business by the roadsides pay hardly any attention to hygienic standards, cleaning fish and dumping the waste in the nearest gutter or ravine, where it remains overnight and develops an unhealthy stench; (2) Conditions at the section of the Castries Market set aside for fish sales are such that the average hard-working citizen considers it a risk to go buy fish there (to put it mildly); and (3) The CCC, under the current Mayor, wishes to cleanse the streets of persons choosing to sell fish anywhere, anytime.

None of the here identified problems are easy to solve. Indeed, they have lived with us (in Castries and around the island) for as long as we can remember.

But as fresh fish continues to be an increasingly popular source of more protein and as more consumers of pelagic and demersal species of all kinds show they will buy it anywhere and anyhow, under whatever conditions, it is imperative that a solution be sought and found – and rather earlier than later.

Fishers (men and women), cleaners, sellers and other associated stakeholders (including wheelbarrow handlers and sellers of plastic bags), Fisheries Department officials and Fishermen’s associations island-wide – and especially consumers — need to engage in a national stakeholders discussion (not a debate) aimed at finding a solution to this fishy business that isn’t, in itself, fishy!

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